Acclaim
Credo Faculty Concert with the Jasper Quartet at Kulas Hall, Oberlin

The Jasper String Quartet, with guest violist Peter Slowik, presented an evening of chamber music Friday at 8:00 pm in Kulas Recital Hall at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music as part of the summer Credo program. The concert was nothing less than delightful! They opened with Haydn's Quartet No. 67 in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2 and concluded the first half with a poignant interpretation of Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 in E minor. After a brief intermission, Peter Slowik (viola) joined them in a rousing performance of the Dvorak String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97.

Peter Slowik, Artistic Director of Credo and guest violist for this performance, was greeted with cheers of excitement. When the stir of energy settled, Slowik gave a warm welcome to the audience, mostly campers with several music enthusiasts sprinkled throughout the hall. Although the concert was sold-out, the crowd did not delay the start of the program.

The Jasper String Quartet instantaneously captivated the audience at the beginning of the Haydn, setting the bar high for the evening with their robust and cohesive playing. It was refreshing to see and hear a Haydn quartet performed with such inclusiveness. So often, the "classical" quartet features a virtuosic first violinist merely accompanied by his trio. Although J Freivogel is every bit a skillful violinist, he resisted the temptation to leave his cohorts in the wake of his flourishes and embellishments.

While there was equal distribution of leadership among the musicians, cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel galvanized the group. She eloquently encouraged her companions with reassuring eye contact and gentle body movements. The inner voices, Sam Quintal (viola) and Sae Chonabayashi (violin), vitalized the ensemble with their supportive communication.

Before performing the Smetana, J Freivogel shared with the audience some insight about the composition and how it pertained to Smetana's life, demonstrating with a high E harmonic, the tinnitus, or ringing in the ear that plagued the composer. His elucidation was powerful, especially considering that the majority of the audience was between the ages of 12 and 23.

Smetana's quartet, subtitled "In My Life," is autobiographical because it depicts four distinct periods in the composer's life. The first movement, while expressing romantic ideals, features a prominent viola solo and a haunting E harmonic in the first violin. The second is in a polka style, replete with an inebriated accordion player portrayed by the two violins; the third movement is bittersweet and represents the love of his life; the fourth movement addresses the concrete issue of the composer's deafness juxtaposed with the abstract nature of art.

Peter Slowik joined the ensemble for Dvorak's Quintet after intermission. The quintet was resonant, balanced, and multi-dimensional. For instance, the "blue notes" emerged from the texture like the bellows of an aerophone. The second movement was a feast for the senses. Its energy reminded me of M.C. Escher's "Relativity" drawing; the staircases lead in one direction and quickly dovetail into another. The Larghetto movement highlighted the richness of the lower strings and the versatility of a quintet. After the final chords, the audience sprang from their seats in uproarious applause giving the quintet a well-deserved standing ovation.

The audience got a rare glimpse of unabashed musical enjoyment by witnessing these four individuals enthusiastically performing together. They imbued the entire performance with their spirit, vigor, and personality – truly scintillating. The Jasper String Quartet is the personification of how four distinct personalities and timbres coalesce; they create something much greater than two violins, a viola, and cello.

Alexandra A. Vago, ClevelandClassical.com
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